Friday, June 10, 2005

Christmas Eve, 1968

Photo: Earth seen from Apollo 8

For the first time, humans had broken the bonds of earth's gravity. On Christmas Eve, three men in a spacecraft not much larger than an SUV entered into orbit around another world and sent home a live broadcast to a fascinated earth.

Six years earlier, in Engel v Vitale, the U.S. Supreme Court had banned prayer in public schools, setting in motion a series of rulings whose tendency was to banish the public expression of faith in God from any place funded by any government subject to the Constitution of the United States of America. That series of rulings, in our time, has valedictorians at public school graduations afraid to begin or end their remarks with prayer lest their school district incur the costs of a protracted lawsuit with deep pockets on the other side.

There is, however, a disproportionate shortage of atheists in the foxholes where daring people undertake the kinds of work which, in hindsight, become a civilization's crown. As astronauts William Anders, Jim Lovell and Frank Borman beamed back the first live video of earth's moon from lunar orbit, they took turns reading from the Book of Genesis on live national television. A transcript of the broadcast is here, and if you have Quicktime, you can get both video and audio by way of a link on the page.